UPDATE, 12/19/2011: There is more on the topic of international adoptions here.
There are few things more harmful than a trusted organization associated with good will and good deeds that uses its influence irresponsibly, and there are few organizations with more accumulated trust than UNICEF, the United Nations organization dedicated to children’s rights, safety and welfare. That UNICEF could be promoting policies that actually harms children seems too awful to contemplate, but that appears to be what is occurring. The problem is that most people have grown up thinking of the organization as the epitome of international virtue. UNICEF doing something that hurts kids? Impossible. Since the group’s impressive moral authority seems to be focused in an unethical direction, the damage it can do before public opinion turns is substantial.
The area is international adoptions. Elizabeth Bartholet has just released a scholarly paper describing the impediments to international adoptions worldwide, and her credentials and passion are impressive and undeniable. She is the Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Child Advocacy Program (CAP) at Harvard Law School, where she teaches civil rights and family law, specializing in child welfare, adoption and reproductive technology. The paper is entitled, “International Adoption, the Human Rights Position,” and it describes in heartbreaking detail the degree to which opponents of international adoption, led by UNICEF, have worked to dismantle the administrative support structure that makes adoptions possible.
The reason appears to be that UNICEF leaders have fallen prey the views of international adoption critics, who regard the practice as an inherent violation of human rights because it “robs children of their heritage” and creates an incentive for poor parents to give up their children. This has led the organization to relentlessly focus on adoption abuses at the cost of successful adoption, and to promote policies which will effectively eliminate all international adoption. It has called for closing down the private intermediaries that in many countries make adoption possible. UNICEF also maintains that international adoption must be subordinate to various in-country options, like foster care, regardless of whether those options are realistic. Bartholet writes:
“The real threat to international adoption and to children is posed by UNICEF and others who claim they are not against international adoption, but simply for regulatory reform…But the UNICEF positions would if accepted radically limit children’s opportunities for finding nurturing homes. Moratoria closing down international adoption programs in particular countries end such adoption entirely, and while moratoria are often initially described as temporary, they may end up being permanent. Even if eventually lifted, children will meantime have been denied adoptive homes. Thus in Guatemala, the current moratorium is denying homes to thousands per year.
“Regulation prohibiting private intermediaries has been the deathknell for international adoption in many countries, as those promoting this ‘reform’ well know. Critics find receptive audiences with their talk of eliminating the greedy lawyers and others who make a living arranging such adoption. But private intermediaries are generally more eager than government bureaucrats to make matches between the parties who want adoption to happen – parties that include birth as well as adoptive parents. Pursuant to pressure from UNICEF and others, many countries in South and Central America have banned private intermediaries, and have as a result largely eliminated international adoption. These countries include Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Honduras, and El Salvador. Instead of placing thousands of children per year, they now place only a handful, and then only after the children have spent long periods in damaging orphanages. Guatemala has responded to similar pressure by enacting legislation eliminating private intermediaries in any future international adoptions.”
Discussing UNICEF preferences for foster care over international adoption, she writes:
“UNICEF’s argument is that such care could preserve children’s birth and national heritage links. But foster care doesn’t exist as a meaningful option in most sending countries – unparented children are instead relegated to orphanages. UNICEF wants foster care expanded, but denying children adoptive homes now because in the future foster care might exist is unfair to existing children. Nor is there any reason to believe that poor countries will be able to build a nurturing permanent foster care system. Such foster care as now exists in poor countries is often quite terrible, a euphemism for cottage-industry-level institutionalization… parentless children in a small-scale orphanage run by a small staff of under-resourced adults.”
The inevitable results of UNICEF’s opposition to international adoption is clear, Bartholet says, and
“…will be disastrous for the many tens of thousands of children who could be placed yearly. Such adoption will be limited to last-resort status, with a relative handful of children released, and this only after damaging periods in orphanages.”
“…Abandoned babies are often confined to steel cribs 23+ hours a day for months or years. Without normal stimuli, without the ability to crawl, play, interact or be loved, they suffer immense, often irreversible psychological and physical damage.”
This is no exaggeration. I visited such orphanages when I adopted my own son in Russia, and the prospect of any child being left to rot in such places because UNICEF is in thrall to ethnic purity, class warfare, and anti-American political correctness is frightening.
It is time to re-evaluate our blind trust of UNICEF, and to make its anti-adoption efforts known. The organization is substantially funded by American donations, and those quarters dropped into those Trick or Treat cans are being used to ensure that thousands of foreign orphans never have the opportunity to experience Halloween, or anything other childhood pleasures.
Can an organization continue to be regarded as a beneficent child welfare advocate if it is working to keep poor kids from finding the loving parents who are eager and able to give them better lives?
[Please read Prof. Bartholet's paper here.]